Confessions of a Serial Entrepreneur: Gift of the blag: At some point we all have to fake it ‘till we make it

Richard Farleigh
YEARS ago, my mate Roger went to Twickenham with another teenage boy. They had decent seats, but Roj saw a fancy-looking enclosed area he wished they could weasel into, but that seemed to require a yellow pass.

A discarded Weetabix box inspired a brainwave. He carefully tore away two pieces of yellow cardboard, which they confidently flashed to the security guard. To their astonishment, they were allowed through. They took a soft drink, sat in two comfortable seats, and smugly whispered between themselves. They had pulled off an awesome blag!

I’m sure we can all sympathise – there’s nothing quite like a good blag. It’s very satisfying winning someone over through a little guile or persuasion. But the underlying rule of blagging is that there are no real victims or losers; you just get something that no one would have really missed anyway. It can’t be genuine fraud or theft, so Bernie Madoff, for example, was no blagger.

Of course, the business world knows full well how to blag. The old mantra of “fake it ‘till you make it” happens every day – from the new hedge fund with no clients but with a fancy office in Mayfair, to the new dating agency promising miracles but with no clients signed up yet, or the salesman from a tech company saying its new product has no software bugs. Many companies wouldn’t have started if the world knew at the beginning just how small and vulnerable they were.

Job hunters know how to blag too, with the odd bit of fiction creeping onto many CVs. Hopefully nothing serious – after all, who will really care if I list poetry and meditation as hobbies to pad things out a bit? To be fair, I know a poem about a Mary and a lamb, and I like to doze off at my desk occasionally. Aware of this “blag inflation,” most employers will discount it all anyway.

To me, the best is when the bragging beats the blagging. I bet Roj was enjoying his rugby match, but he was more excited about seeing his mates later. “You won’t believe what we got away with today!” and a grand tale of royalty, rugby and Weetabix would follow. It’s the sense of fun and the wit involved. Maybe the word “blag” did indeed stem from the French word “to joke”: “blaguer”.

So what do we teach our kids about blagging? Once when I picked up my daughter from school, her teacher was very unhappy. Five-year old Jas had done well in class and was allowed to grab a sweet from the class candy jar. As she headed back to her seat though, the teacher saw something and asked her to open her little hand. Sure enough, she had taken two sweets, not one. Heaven forbid! The sweets were forfeited and the class quickly lectured on honesty and integrity. I was about to lecture Jas myself, when I stopped. Honesty is important, I thought, but so too is knowing when to bend things, just a little, just for fun. You shouldn’t drum that out of anyone. So, naughty parent me, I let it go.

Back to the rugby and suddenly someone gently squeezed Roj’s shoulder. He looked around and saw the giant hand of a former England Rugby player, a legitimate guest. “The supervisor’s wife has noticed you two and says you shouldn’t be here. It’s the Royal enclosure and it’s invitation only.” Oops, thought Roj, the Royal enclosure! I’ve gone too far this time. The boys stood, ready to leave but the giant slowly smiled. “She also said that if you don’t misbehave and keep your noses clean, you can stay.” Nearly 50 years later, Roj still grins when he tells that story.

Richard Farleigh has operated as a business angel for many years, backing more early-stage companies than anyone else in the UK.